Alexandra Palace director of operations and Kaleidoscope Festival (cap. 11,000) director Simon Fell tells Access about the evolution of the one-day music and comedy event at the venue and plans for the future at the Grade II listed building. This year’s Kaleidoscope takes place tomorrow, 23 July, with a lineup including Orbital and Happy Mondays. Production is being handled by Slammin Events, and suppliers include Acord (staging) and Production Hire (sound and lighting). 

When was the festival launched and why?

The festival was launched in 2018, but a lot of work went into it in the years leading up to this. First, I needed to get support and show people what an amazing opportunity something like this would be for Ally Pally. We had done festivals before the fire here in 1980, but nothing since. Luckily, everyone was supportive.

[I thought] well, why not, we have an amazing site – in my opinion there’s none better in London, set against the backdrop of London which is pretty spectacular. It’s one of those places you’ll watch a band and remember forever. Within the team we have the skill set to programme, promote and deliver great shows such as our Fireworks Festival, so why not do something equally impressive in the summer. Ally Pally has become a bit of a Mecca for music over the years. We now have a theatre where we have hosted FK Twigs, Ed Sheeran and Liam Gallagher alongside others and hosted Later…with Jools Holland this year, which was a who’s who of the music world.

With the outside shows we now have three stages where bands can play, that’s pretty impressive. I don’t know anywhere else that can do that. Things like that make me and the team so proud of working at the Palace and being the current custodians of such a historical London landmark. The fact we can do this as an independent venue also means a lot, the place at times feels like it’s run by the passion of the team that work here.

How does the event differ from others at Ally Pally?

Unlike most of our indoor shows where the promoter will hire the space and book the artists and we will deliver the front of house activity, at Kaleidoscope we are both promoter and venue. That means booking and programming all the artists, putting together the creative and running the whole promotional campaign to sell tickets. Then we will coordinate the overall delivery of the event, which to be honest is our day job.

What is new at the event for this year?

At Kaleidoscope we are welcoming back entertainment in our basements. This will see us open up the Palace’s Victorian basements, which most people have never seen. It’s an amazing space and has a real wow factor. We’ve made the family area bigger and also got more space for the DJ area. We have also increased the amount of bars on site. Working on a hill is a huge challenge, but some of the structure would have Brunel giving us a round of applause.

How has Ally Pally bounced back from Covid and dealt with issues this year such as rising costs?

It’s been tough, forecasts and quotes put together pre-pandemic have been blown out of the water with the current cost of living increases. It’s just about keeping focused on everything, scrutinising costs but focusing on continuing to deliver excellent events. We will come out of this period and, as with the pandemic, we want to do that in a stronger place than before.

What other activity is planned at the venue’s outdoor space?

Our outdoor events license allows us to hold several concerts each year. We made a decision to do this over two weekends so we can operate as a production share and maximise on efficiency of costs. This also limits external and local impact to one period. This year we have worked with Primal Scream to hold the London leg of their Screamadelica tour. This took place last week and was epic. I remember this album the first time around, so this was a special night for me. I think a lot of people were blown away by the setting as well as the amazing show the band did alongside their tribute to the legend Andy Weatherall. We will also be working with kiwi funk band Fat Freddy’s Drop. We’ve had them in the venue a few times and they always go down a storm, so outside against the backdrop of London is going to be amazing.